Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to Build Music Influences

What drives us to listen to different kinds of music? Do you listen to the same stuff you listen to as a kid? Have you stopped growing in what you listen to in music? Are you stuck in one genre?

At age 2, I even remember that I was at my grandparents’ house, and I moved a chair over to the record player. Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” was going ‘round and ‘round, and I just wanted to watch that black disk spin and was amazed that music was coming out of it. Of course, my mother pulled me down and moved the chair. I don’t believe I was going to mess with it, but then, as I was looking at the very same album a few months ago to attempt to convert it to digital, I realized that with all the scratches on it, it was hopeless, and tossed it into the trash.

I truly don’t remember life without music. If anything, the car radio was always there. This is the second memory I had related to music. I don’t really remember the first two or so years when I was born and lived in Oklahoma. I know my dad took me to a night football game at Oklahoma State University. I remember it was dark, and I remember seeing the mascot Pistol Pete, but that’s about it. My dad got a job working for the government, so I do remember living in a little cottage in Rock Island, Illinois, and driving around in the darkness of the morning, listening to the AM rock radio station. Cold and dark mornings with songs that haunted my like “Dream On” by Aerosmith, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and “American Pie” by Don McLean.

70’s radio was a staple for me. Dad would buy the occasional 45 RPM record, but for the most part it was KSTT (AM) and KIIK (FM) for me in grade school. I had a mono transistor radio with a headphone jack, and later, my dad brought me back a mono radio/tape player from a TDY (business) trip to Saudi Arabia. I would tape parts of songs off the radio, mostly because it took me a couple of notes from the fade in of the song and because I didn’t want to use up all my tape or batteries. So would begin my education of the mix tape.

For years, we had a cheap-ass Sears stereo, an all-in-one with a tuner and a record player. Might have had an 8-track player in it, but for some reason I don’t believe so. I am pretty sure 8-tracks were relegated to the automobiles in my family. Then Dad went out and started buying separate stereo components. He bought a record player, a tape deck and a receiver. We also bought Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan.” It’s still one of my favorite albums to this day.

By this time I had accumulated a lot of 7-inch records and made a tape of all of them, including the B-sides, if I liked the B-side. Still, the majority of my time I was playing the sweet sounds of 70’s radio. What a great time that was. You could get a Bachman-Turner Overdrive song followed by Donna Summer. It’s hard to mix genres, but I think that influence helped me later on to find transitional songs on mix tapes, going from something grunge like The Fluid into something alt-country like the Gear Daddies. It’s tough to do, but you can pull it off if you try.

I went through the metal phase and the punk phase, and all along old country was there. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard. Dad used to put on the Outlaws album (the one with Willie, Waylon and Tompall Glaser; I think he really liked the Tompall songs – they were sort of punk rock snotty, and my Dad doesn’t even like punk rock) or Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger” album, side 1, and make biscuits or pancakes for breakfast on weekends.

So when I heard the Gear Daddies and Uncle Tupelo back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, that was it for me; a great mix of true country (not that slick Nashville sound) and rock influenced by everything good about rock music. To this day, for lack of a better term, Alternative Country is still my favorite music. There are good stories and I enjoy the melodies. Sometimes it’s more country than rock, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes it’s just a guy singing and picking a blues riff. My favorites right now are James McMurtry, Drive-By Truckers, and even though they have been broken up for years, Slobberbone.

How have you been influenced?


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